Keselowski snags third Cup win of the season with late charge
By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
Brad Keselowski’s 30th career victory, which came in Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway, was much like many of his earlier wins in that he initially didn’t appear to be a contender, but he and crew chief Paul Wolfe spent most of the race tuning his car and turning it into a winner.
Keselowski started fourth but quickly faded out of the top 10. He ran between 10th and 15th for most of the race while others, like Kevin Harvick, who led a race-high 104 laps, and Alex Bowman, who led 63, dominated at the front.
But Keselowski came on strong at the end, taking advantage of fresher tires, and drove by Bowman with 11 laps remaining to take the lead. He held onto the top spot through an overtime shootout that extended the race by four laps to get his third victory of the season.
Bowman finished second for the third race in a row, while Erik Jones took third over Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer. Harvick, who won the pole and the first 80-lap stage, finished 15th after being set back by an unscheduled green-flag pit stop with 88 laps remaining.
“What a great day,” Keselowski said. “On the (final) restart, I just got a great launch, and Alex Bowman — he’s going to win a race — he did a great job. We had a little bit of fresher tires than he did (to facilitate the lead change before overtime), and we were able to make the move on the outside there and caught everything perfect.
“I’m just so thankful.”
Bowman was blaming himself afterward, saying he picked the wrong lane when he came up on a group of slower cars, which gave Keselowski an opportunity to pass him.
“We had a really good car, I just made bad decisions going through lapped traffic on lane choice,” he said. “[The lapped drivers] stayed where I needed to run. I should have gone high, and I shouldn’t have picked the middle like I did. I just had to lift and let [Keselowski and Jones] drive right around me.
“I’m pretty frustrated with myself. There was no way around that, that was a bad mistake on my part. We’ll go home and get them next week.”
Bowyer, seeking the first win for a home-state driver at Kansas, also was frustrated at the end, but his ire was directed at Jones, who made a bold move in driving in front of Bowyer on the overtime run to the finish.
“That wasn’t very smart,” Bowyer said of Jones’ tactic. “If it had been another scenario where I would have had some room, I would have just turned him in front of the whole field, and he would be back there wishing he wouldn’t have done that.”
Jones said he did what he had to do, given the current aero package. “We’re racing hard, and this package kind of leads into a lot of blocking and a lot of protecting your position,” he said. “When I take the white flag, I’m not going to give up a lane to give up two, three or four spots if [Bowyer] would have gotten to the inside.”
Kyle Busch will remain tied with Morgan Shepherd with 11 top-10 finishes to start a Cup season. In his 12th start, Busch ran competitively, even overcoming a penalty for driving through too many pit boxes on one of his stops. But a late pit stop to replace a tire cut from contact with Bowyer left him three laps down in 30th place at the finish.
Saturday’s race was the first night race with the new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package NASCAR implemented this year, and Keselowski said the new package puts on its best show at night.
“It used to be we wanted daytime races because it fit the rules,” Keselowski said. “Now it’s the opposite. Nighttime is the new daytime for NASCAR as far as the racing being better.”
The next two races — the non-points All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 — both will end under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
PHOTO CAPTION: Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford for Team Penske had the goods when it counted, bolting to the front late in the Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway.Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images for NASCAR